Seeing a doctor you don’t like can be hazardous to your health. It can be little things, like a cool demeanor when you’re a big hugger, or serious issues such as a failure to explain procedures effectively.
But make no mistake, said Pamela Gallin, MD, professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics at Columbia University and author of “How to Survive Your Doctor’s Care,” “As soon as that little voice asks, ‘Is this doctor right for me?’ then you have a problem.” The issues might be fixable, and Gallin suggests that a good relationship with your primary care doctor – your family practitioner, OB-GYN, or pediatrician – is much more important than with a specialist. “Not only do you see your primary caregiver more often, you also share much more sensitive information, and need a certain comfort on a psycho-social level. If you feel you can’t tell them you might have an STD, you’ve got the wrong man or woman,” Gallin said. “And you count on them for referrals to specialists. The better your relationship with the referring doctor, the harder the specialist will work to make you happy.”
All of our experts agree that while the new health care systems strive to be more cost and time efficient, it’s also more patient-centric. That means seeking your dream doc is worthwhile and within reach. Here are some warning signs that it’s time to move on:
1 You simply don’t like the person.
You don’t even have to know why, it could be that she uses what you consider inappropriate language, or doesn’t understand your nonverbal cues. “This is why people are drawn to doctors who are their own gender, nationality and race,” Gallin said. But it even extends to personality and manner. If you don’t feel you are being treated appropriately or being listened to, find someone else.
2 Your time is not being respected.
“It goes way beyond being late,” said Paula Pearlman, MD, associate clinical professor at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. “There are plenty of studies that show people don’t mind waiting if they are given a time frame and kept up to date, if they’re given a choice to wait an hour for the doctor, or schedule another appointment.” If it happens repeatedly, it colors the entire relationship, but good communication from the practitioner can mitigate the situation.
3 You don’t feel heard.
“If you have a question about your cardiovascular health or cholesterol,” Pearlman explains, “and all your doctor wants to talk about is your smoking, that’s not going to be satisfactory for you.” And if your doctor treats you like an unfamiliar, new patient every time you see him, that’s a red flag.
4 Your doctor doesn’t explain your conditions, your treatment, and your options clearly and thoroughly.
“When a practitioner starts resorting to medical jargon, that makes it more difficult for the patient,” said Pearlman, who has been an ER doctor at a busy Kaiser Permanente hospital for 30 years. “The doctor should be willing to slow down and simplify; but doctors don’t have a lot of time anymore, so patients should be willing to schedule a second visit if they still have unanswered questions.” Pearlman adds that a well-run office will have nursing staff who can answer many questions; they know about the studies and side effects of medications. And it’s not a bad idea to do some online research yourself so you can be prepared with specific questions.
5 She doesn’t talk to your other doctors.
“This is my new pet peeve,” said family physician Kenny Lin, MD, associate professor of family medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine. “I see a lot of patients with multiple conditions, and it’s the responsibility of both the primary care doc and the specialist to communicate. If you have the sense that they aren’t, then you need to ask, and the appropriate response to that should be, ‘Thanks for checking.’ Your doctors should not be offended by this suggestion.”
6 He seems to be keeping you in the dark.
“It’s pretty rare that doctors are intentionally keeping their patients in the dark,” Lin said, “but sometimes they don’t check to make sure that their patients are absorbing the information adequately.” For instance, if a patient is getting a cancer diagnosis, it can be overwhelming, and a practitioner might interpret silence as resilience instead of confusion. “I try to state the situation in several different ways, then use the ‘Teach Back’ technique,” Lin explains, “I ask them to repeat back what I just told them.”
7 She isn’t discussing all your treatment options.
When you have a complicated condition, there might be multiple approaches, and you also might need time to discuss alternatives with your family. While you should never feel rushed, time is a factor, said Don Powell, Ph.D., president of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, a nonprofit that promotes healthy behavior through wellness programs and publications. “On average, doctors spend less than 15 minutes per patient; while most patients have at least four questions to ask, most doctors only get to 2.5. So bring a checklist of symptoms and questions, and also give your practitioner all the information you have,” Powell advises. “Studies show that 70 percent of what a patient said determines a correct diagnosis and treatment plan.”
8 You just aren’t getting better.
“Nonspecific, vague symptoms might not be that easy to figure out right out of the gate,” Pearlman warns, “so sometimes you have to be patient, especially if your symptoms are pointing to a chronic condition.” But if you’ve been following a treatment plan that involves medication and your doctor is not willing to discuss alternatives, it might be time to move on.
9 Poor bedside manner.
“With our new systems, doctors don’t get paid as much per patient, so they need more volume,” Powell said. This is the underlying cause of the interrupting doctor syndrome. “Doctors are notorious for interrupting before a patient is finished talking,” said Pearlman. “Yes, sometimes we need to keep them on track. But there’s a positive way to say, ‘I really am sorry to interrupt you here, but I need to move to the next question,’ or something similar.” Studies show that your level of trust in your doctor is a huge factor in your healing process.
10 She seems to resist a second opinion.
Getting one is your right as a patient, and any good doctor will be confident, open to having her diagnosis and treatment plan examined and willing to readjust her approach if called for. But here’s a caveat: “If you go for a second opinion, don’t seek it within the same practice or the same hospital if you have the choice,” cautions Pearlman. “There tend to be institutional approaches to the same conditions and you want to have as much confidence in the second view as you do the first.”
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